Pathfinder - Striking Panther Ninja Build Guide
I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.
It is a harsh reality of Pathfinder that combat tends to involve a lot of standing still and wacking each other. While there are certainly exceptions, the majority of characters will get themselves into position early in a fight and do their best to stand still for as long as possible in order to make a full attack. This is a huge problem for many Rogues/Ninjas, especially those who depend on Full Attacks to deal extra damage.
Two-Weapon Fighting is the general go-to option for Sneak Attack builds because each extra attack is potentially a pile of additional damage. While this is fine in a fight where everyone is nice and polite and stands still while you flank them, this doesn't work in fights where you have multiple enemies, highly mobile enemies, or complex terrain.
The Striking Panther is a highly mobile Scout Ninja/Master of Many Styles Monk build which allows you to dart in, deal a pile of damage, then dance away unscathed. Conceptually, it is similar to Spring Attack, but Spring Attack actually flies in the face of the build. By using Panther Style and Snake Style, the Striking Panther can draw several attacks of opportunity to grant herself free attacks in response to each. Combined with the Scout archetype, this allows the Striking Panther to turn each of these free attacks into Sneak Attacks without the need to stand still, flank, or take penalties to use two-weapon fighting.
Unfortunately, this build is not without its problems. The complications of combining the Ninja and Monk make the build considerably MAD, the build is very feat intensive, and the full power of the build doesn't come into play until level 10.
Ninja / Monk Class Features
For details on Ninja class features, see my Ninja Handbook. We will only be taking 2 levels of Monk, so here are the few class features we will get:
AC Bonus (Ex): We can't afford to make our Wisdom high enough to replace armor, but fortunately the Ninja gets light armor proficiency. Even at high levels when we can get a headband of +6 Wisdom, a suit of well enhanced Haramaki will likely be a much better investment.
Flurry of Blows (Ex): I feel a little bad about not taking advantage of Flurry of Blows, but it's one of those abilities where you really need to stand still and full attack. You might be able to use it with Storm of Stars to throw a bunch of shuriken early in a fight, and you might use it a little bit early in the game before you get Skirmisher, but it's not a key component of the build.
Proficiencies: The Monk is proficient with Monk weapons, which gets us some crazy options, but none of them will be any better than the Wakizashi or your bare hands because you need to use light weapons with Weapon Finesse.
Skills: You lose 4 skill ranks compared to Ninja skills, so be sure to choose your skills very carefully to keep from falling behind on essential skills like Stealth and Perception.
AC Bonus (Ex): The Monk AC bonus helps to offset the monk's lack of armor. The scaling is fairly negligible, but it still feels good to have. However, your AC will still be awful without additional items and AC imrpovements.
Flurry of Blows (Ex): This is the Monk's iconic attack. It follows the same progression as a fighter maximizing the two-weapon fighting feats, but you have no "off-hand" attacks. You don't even need free hands. You can use your feet if your hands are full. You can also alternate freely between weapons and unarmed strikes, and you can substitute disarm, sunder, and trip combat maneuvers for unarmed attacks.
Unarmed Strike: Panther Style specifies that the free attack it grants must be unarmed, and we need Unarmed Strike for the style feats, so this does a lot of good things for us. The 1d6 damage is nice too because it will keep pace with our best weapon choices (rapier, wakizashi), and it feels nice to roll a pile of one type of die.
Bonus Feats: We get both of the Monk's low level feats, which is great because we need so many feats to get the build off the ground.
Stunning First (Ex): Stunning enemies is a great idea in a lot of situations. If you need to escape, move into flanking, save your allies, or just prevent your enemy from hitting things, Stunning Fist allows you to completely rob the target of their actions for a full round. However, it prevents the target from making attacks of opportunity against you (and thereby granting you free attacks), so save it for special occasions. The DC is based on Character Level, so it won't be hurt by taking levels of Ninja instead of Monk. If you prefer, you can add the Hungry Ghost Monk archetype and trade Stunning Fist for Punishing Kick. Either one can allow you to use Panther Parry to prevent enemies from actually taking their attacks of opportunity.
Evasion (Ex): Dipping into Monk nets us a +3 to all of our saves, and combined with our high Dexterity and the Ninja's good Reflex saves, Evasion should be very reliable. The Ninja also doesn't get Evasion until at least 12th level, so this will help protect us from fireballs at low levels.
Scout Archetype Features
Scout's Charge (Ex): While not as amazing as Skirmisher, Scout's Charge allows us to charge in for a Sneak Attack, then either run away later or move into position to flank like a normal Rogue.
Skirmisher (Ex): This is cornerstone of the Striking Panther build, and it is the source of your damage output.
Master of Many Styles Features
Bonus Feat: This is crucial to the build, as it greatly contributes to the pile of feats needed to fuel the build.
Fuse Style (Ex): We will only get the first level of this ability, but the ability to fuse two styles is plenty for our purposes.
Perfect Style (Ex): We won't get this far.
- Drunken Master: We won't take more than 2 levels of Monk, so we won't get any of the abilities.
- Hungry Ghost Monk: Stunning Fist is fantastic, but it prevents enemies from making attacks of opportunity. Punishing Kick is nice because it can knock enemies prone, or it can push them away from you, giving you room to get into position for your next turn. This isn't necessary to the build, but it's an interesting option.
- Ki Mystic: We won't take more than 2 levels of Monk, so we won't get any of the abilities.
- Monk of the Lotus: You are not a pacifist.
- Monk of the Sacred Mountain: If you're going to take two levels of Monk, you want to get Evasion out of the deal.
Unfortunately, the Striking Panther is fairly MAD. Ninja
Str: All you get is a bit of damage, and your damage comes mostly from Sneak Attack.
Dex: Crucial for AC, Reflex saves, .
Con: While we should have respectable AC, the Striking Panther lives on a razors edge, and one lucky strike could turn you from a storm of damage output into a fast-moving casualty.
Int: The Ninja only needs intelligence for the skill ranks. If you need skills, dump Strength harder to boost your intelligence more.
Wis: Wisdom helps with the Ninja's poor Will save, and gets us additional uses of Panther Claw.
Cha: The Ninja's Ki Pool depends on Charisma, and we won't take enough levels to use the Monk's Ki Pool instead. Don't dump Charisma, but don't spend a ton of points on it either. This build isn't terribly dependent on the Ki Pool, so don't worry about not having a huge pool.
|25 Point Buy||20 Point Buy||15 Point Buy||Elite Array|
The Striking Panther needs to be fast, stealthy, and have a lot of Dexterity. More movement speed can mean more free attacks, so anything below 30 foot speed is strictly out.
Dwarf: Too slow.
Elf: The bonus to Dexterity is great, and the Intelligence is nice, but the constitution penalty hurts, and all of the magical abilities don't do anything for us. Alternate racial traits like Darkvision and Silent Hunter can work very well for the Striking Panther, but the Elf favored class bonus doesn't fit the build.
Gnome: Too slow.
Half-Elf: The flexible bonus goes straight into Dexterity. Half-Elf might seem like a better option because they're good for multiclass characters, but the only real difference is two skills ranks or two hit points, so dump Multitalented for something more useful. The Half-Elf favored class bonus is garbage, so take the Human favored class bonus for extra talents.
Half-Orc: Darkvision is always nice for a stealth character, and the flexible bonus can go right into Dexterity, but that's really all that we can make use of. The Half-Orc favored class bonus is garbage, so take the Human favored class bonus for extra talents.
Halfling: Despite being very sneaky, the Halfling is still too slow.
Human: The free skill rank helps with our dumped Intelligence, and the free feat helps us get the build off the ground early. The favored class bonus grants a few bonus Talents (remember that the Ninja is an alternate class for Rogues, so logically you should be able to take the same favored class bonus) which can get you some more options if you don't need to spend your favored class bonus on skill ranks.
See my Ninja Handbook's trait section for help selecting traits. In addition, the Fencer trait is worth considering:
- Fencer (Combat): Works well with Snake Style. You won't see the bonus until fairly high level, and you won't always get it, but I have never seen a better place to use this trait.
With dumped intelligence, prioritizing your skills becomes very important. Otherwise, our skill choices are the same as any other Ninja. See my Ninja Handbook's skill section for help selecting skills. Be sure to maximize Sense Motive to take advantage of Snake Style, and maximize Acrobatics to keep from taking attacks of opportunity before you move the full 10 feet to get Skirmisher.
- Combat Reflexes: Required to make best use of Snake Fang.
- Extra Ki: Ki isn't super important to the Striking Panther, but if you like to use Ki dependent Ninja Tricks, it's a good way to make up for the relatively low Charisma.
- Extra Rogue Talent: A nice GM would probably let you use this for Rogue Tricks since there is no "Extra Ninja Trick" Feat. If your GM likes technicalities, take the "Rogue Talent" Ninja Trick. You now have a Rogue Talent, so you qualify for the Extra Rogue Talent feat. Then give your GM a look that clearly communicates your scorn.
- Fleet: A 5 foot increase your move speed seems pretty small, but every square of movement can mean one or more free attacks. If you don't have other ways to increase your move speed (Longstrider, Boots of Striding and Springing, Etc.), strongly consider FLlet.
- Panther Style: The basis and inspiration for this
build. Take it as early as possible.
- Panther Claw: This makes the build hillarious
and fun to play. Be sure to take Mobility first or you're going to get hit
a lot. At high levels, be sure to get a circlet of wisdom to increase the
number of free attacks that you can make.
- Panther Parry: This really improves the reliability of Panther Claw. You have the potential to kill, stun, trip, or otherwise disable the target before they attack you, and you apply a -2 penalty to their attack if they're still able to attack you. Combined with mobility, the target is effectively at a -6 to hit you compared to normal attack/AC. You can add Stunning Fist or Punishing Kick to completely prevent enemies from taking their attacks of opportunity.
- Panther Claw: This makes the build hillarious and fun to play. Be sure to take Mobility first or you're going to get hit a lot. At high levels, be sure to get a circlet of wisdom to increase the number of free attacks that you can make.
- Snake Style: Snake Style is secondary to the build,
but it adds a secondary means of getting free
- Snake Sidewind: Critical hits aren't something
that monks can rely on, and your Sense Motive bonus probably shouldn't
outpace your attack bonus. Spending your immediate action to take a free
5 foot step is an interesting option, but you can't do it if you used
Snake Style in the previous round, and you need a critical hit to make it
happen. Fortunately, you can use your Monk bonus feats to skip this!
- Snake Fang: This combines very well with Panther Claw and Panther Parry, and provides a second source of attacks of opportunity. Unless you enhance your Wisdom a great deal, this may actually grant you more free attacks than Panther Claw because your Dexterity will work so well with Combat Reflexes.
- Snake Sidewind: Critical hits aren't something that monks can rely on, and your Sense Motive bonus probably shouldn't outpace your attack bonus. Spending your immediate action to take a free 5 foot step is an interesting option, but you can't do it if you used Snake Style in the previous round, and you need a critical hit to make it happen. Fortunately, you can use your Monk bonus feats to skip this!
- Toughness: We're going to be drawing a lot of fire, so more hit points are very welcome.
- Weapon Finesse: Required. Get it early.
Dodge: Required to get Mobility, and good for our
Mobility: Drawing attacks of opportunity
for moving is a fundamental component of the build, and this will
keep us alive.
- Spring Attack: You typically want to draw as many attacks of opportunity as possible, so this flies in the face of the build's core concept.
- Mobility: Drawing attacks of opportunity for moving is a fundamental component of the build, and this will keep us alive.
- Double-Chained Kama: The rules for the double-chained Kama seems somewhat confusing, but the description can be clarified a bit. The double-chained kama essentially has two modes: double kama mode and reach mode. In double kama mode, you are functionally using two seperate weapons with a chain between them, and you can use Weapon Finesse with the kamas. When you switch to reach mode, things gets a little bit unclear. The weapon limits you to a single attack, so you can't use two-weapon fighting but it's unclear if you can make extra attacks with higher base attack bonus. It doesn't state that you must make the reach attack two-handed and weapon doesn't stop being light, so you can still use weapon finesse as far as I can tell.
- Katana: The Katana is only viable if you plan to use Slashing Grace, which requires a Swashbuckler dip.
- Shuriken: If you're close enough to throw Shuriken, you will probably do better running around in Panther Style. However, if you roll high initiative (likely for a Ninja with such good Dexterity), you may want to Flurry of Blows with Shurikens until your enemy can make attacks of opportunity.
- Unarmed: You're going to be fighting unarmed at least for the purposes of Panther Style, so there's nothing wrong with committing to it.
- Wakizashi: The least complicated choice, but not as versatile as the double-chained kama. The threat range is certainly tempting, but critical hits don't really matter for Ninjas because your normal damage is so low compared to your Sneak Attack damage.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.
- Studded Leather: Your starting point. This should last through early levels. Don't bother enhancing because you're going to get a Mithral Shirt pretty quickly.
- Masterwork Buckler: I don't know why more people don't use bucklers. A masterwork buckler is 165gp, has no armor check penalty, and doesn't prevent you from using your off hand. Your off hand is going to be empty anyway, and you need all the AC you can get. When you start having enough gold to enhance your armor, enhance your buckler first because it has no maximum dexterity bonus, and you won't need to trade up.
- Mithral Shirt: Mithral Shirt will be your best bet for AC until your Dexterity bonus hits +10, which will be extremely high level.
- Haramaki: Strictly better than padded armor. With no maximum dexterity bonus, you can afford to make your Dexterity absurdly high without restriction, and can still keep enhancing your armor.
Multilassing and Prestige Classes
Don't do it. This build already leans on multiclassing Monk and Ninja, and dipping other classes will really handicap you.
- Monk: We are already multiclassing into Monk as much as we can afford. It's tempting to take two more levels for the Ki Pool, movement speed, and the ability to trade Still Mind for Monk Vows, but definitely don't do it before your get Skirmisher at level 10. By that point, you're very close to getting Advanced Ninja Tricks, so weigh your options very carefully.
- Rogue: You could technically do this build with Rogue in place of Ninja, but it feels way less cool.
- Swashbuckler: A single level of Mysterious Avenger Swashbuckler gets you a lot of great things. A whip is a great weapon choice, though you need a few feats to make it really work (Whip Mastery at least, though Improved Whip Mastery is absolutely a good idea). Fortunately, the Striking Panther has several empty ninja trick/feat slots which you could fill. Since whips deal slashing damage, they work really well with Slashing Grace and you'll already have Weapon Focus from Whip Mastery. Your Dexterity is going to be absolutely nuts, so Slashing Grace presents a fantastic damage boost. The biggest problem is that delaying Skirmisher is painful since we're already delaying it to take two levels of Monk, and waiting until 11th level for the build to really master its gimick is difficult.
Example Build - The Striking Panther
Eventually they'll learn to stop swinging at me, but by then they'll all be dead.
Our ideal scenario looks like this: You move, drawing an atack of opportunity. You interrupt your opponent with Panther Parry to hit them. They then take their attack at a -2 penalty against your AC +4 (Mobility), and when they miss, you take an attack of opportunity against them. If you haven't used your immediate action for the round, you can spend it to get another free attack. That's up to three free attacks at your full base attack bonus, and if you moved 10 feet before drawing attacks of opportunity, all of them are sneak attacks. Now do that for every enemy on the field in one turn. If your victim is unfortunate enough to have Combat Reflexes you can just run around them in circles carving them to bits.
Note: I wrote this guide prior to Pathfinder Unchained being added to the official SRD. While there is no official Unchained Ninja, the new options still offer ways to improve the build. Unchained Rogue could substitute for Ninja in this build with few issues, though the loss of Ki Pool points might be a problem for you if you wanted to use ninja tricks or something. Finesse Training locks you into one weapon, so you either give up double-chained kama or you still need weapon finesse to make your unarmed strikes accurate with Panther Style. Unchained Monk is tempting, but you'll give up +3 to will saves and access to monk archetypes like Sohei and Hungry Ghost in exchange for +1 to BAB. Personally I don't think it's worth the trade, and you won't be taking enough levels of Monk to get anything especially interesting.
We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.
Human is really our only good choice.
Our skills are flexible, so I'll leave this largely up to you. Be sure to maximize Acrobatics and Sense motive (see "Skills" above), but the rest is up to you.
Life of Toil and Fencer. Life of toil will bring our worst save up a bit, and I really want an excuse to use Fencer. Reactionary would be a good choice too, but because we like to draw attacks of opportunity, going first isn't as important as it is for most Rogues/Ninjas.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
|1 - Ninja 1||
At this level you're a very generic Ninja. Rely on stealth and surprise to get Sneak Attack. You likely won't be able to keep up with anyone weilding a greatsword, so flank with the party's fighter to make yourself useful.
|2 - Ninja 2||
For the moment, use your Ki Pool to get free attacks when you need them. Your damage is still pitiful, but be patient. It will pay off.
Combat Reflexes doesn't actually help us yet, but we need it for level 3. You could easily switch Dodge and Combat Reflexes, but I assume that people will want the extra AC early.
|3 - Monk 1||
This is where the build starts to take off. We can get Panther Claw despite the requisite 15 Wisdom because it's a Monk bonus feat, so you can already start running around in combat drawing fire. However, you probably won't be able to get Sneak Attack unless you do something clever with flanking. If you decide that you need to stand somewhere and full attack, use Flurry of Blows to attack unarmed or with a monk weapon like your double-chained kama.
Be sure to take advantage of Stunning Fist when you need it. At this level enemies generally won't have Combat Reflexes, so hopefully you won't have to worry about more than one attack of opportunity per turn from each enemy.
Strongly consider a monk archetype. Hungry Ghost gets you Punishing Kick, which allows you to knock enemies prone. Sohei gets you Devoted Guardian, which guarantees that you get to act during the surprise round, and will get you a +1 to initiative when you take a second level of Monk.
|4 - Ninja 3||
More Sneak Attack damage is very welcome. With 2d6 per attack and Panther Style, you should be able to use clever positioning to get at least one free attack every round. Try starting from flanking, move one square away to draw the attack of opportunity, then immediately move back into flanking to make a single Attack action. You get just as many attacks a two-weapon fighting Rogue without the pesky attack penalty. If you're concerned about drawing an attack, stand still and use Flurry of Blows.
|5 - Ninja 4||
Mobility isn't very fun, but it will keep you alive to do your Panther Style tricks. Scout's Charge allows you to Sneak Attack on a charge, so charge to get a sneak attack, then on your following turn tumble into flanking then stop tumbling to move normally and draw an attack of opportunity for a free attack. If you still have movement remaining, move back into flanking and take your normal Attack action.
Your choice of Ninja Trick beyond this point isn't really important to the build. Pick whatever will work for you. If you throw a lot of shurikens at the beginning of fights, pick of Storm of Stars. If you need some help with damag, consider Bleeding Attack. If you want more AC, Offensive Defense is a great choice, and has the added benefit of making Snake Fang more reliable. Be careful when taking Ki Pool tricks which activate as a Swift Action because you will generally be using your Immediate Action with Snake Style.
|6 - Ninja 5||
A fairly dry level; all we get is more Sneak Attack. Of course, that means more damage, and more damage is awesome.
|7 - Monk 2||
Our second level of Monk is fantastic. We get +1 BAB, +1 to all of our saves, Evasion, and a bonus feat. That's one hell of a class dip. That bonus feat lets us skip Snake Sidewind and go straight to Snake Fang. Snake Sidewind is terrible, and being forced to take it is a fate no one should have to suffer.
Be sure to weigh your options between using Snake Style to defend yourself with Sense Motive as an immediate action, or using Snake Fang to potentially get a free attack. If you have good enough AC when drawing attacks of opportunity (Mobility and Offensive Defense will really help), you can generally afford to save your immeditate action for a free attack.
You can switch this level with level 5 if you prefer, but Mobility is very important for your survival, so only do so if your AC is very high already.
|8 - Ninja 6||
Another fairly dry level. Pick a cool Ninja Trick.
|9 - Ninja 7||
Panther Parry is a great boost. Attacking before your enemy means that you might kill them before they get to attack you. If you don't kill them, the -2 penalty makes them even less likely to hit you, so Snake Fang is more likely to trigger.
|10 - Ninja 8||
This is where the Striking Panther masters its gimick. You need to move at lest 10 feet to get Sneak Attack from Skirmisher, but you have plenty of options. If you start from flanking, you can move away to draw attacks, and you get Sneak Attack because all of the attacks are resolved from your starting position. You can then move back into reach, which is a minimum of 10 feet of movement even if you don't move back into flanking. If you don't start from flanking, you can use Acrobatics to tumble for 10 feet (20 feet of movement), then go back to moving normally to draw attacks and get free attacks that you can Sneak Attack with. If you start more than 10 feet away from enemies, you can either charge for an easy Sneak Attack or move into and through their threatened area, then finish with a single attack as a standard action.
Beyond 10th level your options are totally open. I would recommend sticking to Ninja to increase your Sneak Attack damage, but you have plenty of options. You could go into Rogue or Slayer, or you could take two more levels of Monk to improve your Ki Pool. It's entirely up to you. You don't really need to worry about your BAB as long as you can get attack bonuses elsewhere (keep that dexterity high), so don't be afraid to dip into other classes with poor BAB progressions.